Saturday, April 26, 2014

De Magnete by William Gilbert

Apparently, no one had cut a magnet in half before.  Claims were made for the existence of gold magnets. Lodestone was a remedy for contrary medical symptoms.  Even the sailors who relied on lodestones wrongly called the poles of a magnet north and south for pointing north and south.  In 1600, while Galileo worked on mechanics in Padua, William Gilbert (or Gilberd) investigated magnetism in London. 

Galileo’s crime was questioning Aristotle.  Gilbert denounced Aristotle as a second-hander, a mere copyist for wives’ tales.  Galileo wrote in vernacular Italian. Gilbert wrote in Latin. Gilbert created new words for the new concepts he discovered: verticity for the tendency of an iron needle to point to a magnetic pole; versorium for an electroscope, i.e., a needle on a pivot to detect fields; coition for attraction because both bodies are mutually pulled to each other.  That last was a serious problem for the Victorian reader.  This Dover edition is a reprint of P. Fleury Mottelay’s 1889 translation. Mottelay nicely rendered this into an archaic kind of English, readable by moderns but spiced with older phrasings that perhaps more correctly delivered Gilbert’s own thinking.  Moreover, this edition is supported by copious footnotes from the author’s own research into the history of magnetics. 
You can find the original in Latin at the Lancaster University faculty projects archives here. Mottelay knows his science; and in translating, he does employ some modern terms, chief among them, "field."  In truth, Gilbert did not hypothesize fields. That thinking came later.

William Gilbert knew that the Earth is a magnet.  Earth’s magnetic field gives polarity to iron.  Heat a bar or needle of iron until it loses all attraction, then, place the bar aligned north and south and let it cool. It will acquire polarity. 

You can prove this for yourself, Gilbert enjoins you, by running the needle through a cork and floating it in a tub.  That is a simple apparatus; and he employed it over and over in different ways to tease out the facts about magnetism.

The beauty of this work is the intense and patient study behind it.  Gilbert was not publishing conjectures.  He was announcing empirical facts.  He called for experiments and observations in rejection of the compiling of authoritative citations from ancients.  In that, William Gilbert helped to nurture the Renaissance into the Age of Reason.   

He made some mistakes.  While clearly understanding that electricity is related to magnetism, he did not find evidence of electro-static repulsion.  He also claimed that magnetic variation is constant, though a generation later, it was measured as variable.  It is more important that he knew about variation, that the magnet aligns not quite true north-south, depending on the location on Earth.

Gilbert constructed models of the magnetic Earth, spheres of iron charged with polarity. He knew that bars and needles exhibit the phenomena better, but he had another point to make; and he did so repeatedly.  One of his spheres has a chunk missing. Another has a large protrusion. Thus, Gilbert demonstrated magnetic variation over the oceans and near mountains.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Volunteering in an Emergency: What to Expect

When disaster befalls your community (or one near you; or one you care about), helping others in distress may seem intuitively obvious to you.  However, like much else in modern society, government agencies and institutional organizations regulate, control, and manage spontaneous volunteering.  Like traffic lanes and traffic lights, or standard time zones, the processes usually work out well for everyone when participants keep to the program.  

About half of the Texas Conservation Corps members
who attended training in
"Managing Spontaneous Volunteers".
They get paid $12,000 per year to build trails
and otherwise manage public lands
and respond to disasters such as
Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey.
After a year, they get $5500 toward college.
Generally, any community has some kind of emergency response coordinator.  Large towns have several agencies that assume known roles, such as a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). The Red Cross and Salvation Army are the two most visible private entities. They act because they have legally-recognized authority from a government agency with competent jurisdiction.  Your county sheriff or township police may have signed a “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) granting those powers in case of an emergency.  These are all necessary (and proper) because a disaster will overwhelm and deplete the usual first responders: police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians.
Terms to know:·  
  •  VOAD – Volunteer Organizations Active in a Disaster·
  • VRC – Volunteer Resource Center
  • Affiliated Volunteers are members of recognized organizations such as the Youth Corps, the Senior Corps, Americorps. They may actually be paid in some way. They have formal training and are credentialed in their special skills, such as interviewing and intervention or machine operations, from chainsaws to Bobcat “Skid-Steers”. Their organizations assume some liability for them.
  • Spontaneous Volunteers reflect two meanings. On the deeper level, the volunteer is spontaneous, personally motivated by the news events to come to aid.  Once on the scene, the spontaneous volunteer can be counted on for enthusiasm and energy. They are free of cost to the agency that engages them.  Spontaneous volunteers bring a range of skills.  They provide additional resources that can be marshaled. 

 However, spontaneous volunteers are known to come with a wide range of problems, from lack of training to sociopathic predatory behaviors. 

“In a report published online on March 25 in advance of the print edition of Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, Lauren Sauer, M.S., surveyed 24 nongovernment volunteer organizations (NVOs) that had responded to disasters in the past and found that 19 of them — or 79 percent — had spontaneous volunteers show up to help. While a majority of those organizations said they found such volunteers useful, 42 percent reported that volunteers had been injured in the response, and there were two reported deaths among them. Organizations were allowed to respond anonymously as a way to encourage survey participation.”  (Read here.)

If the town next to yours suffers a tornado or a flood and you feel motivated to help out, your experience will go better if you know what to expect and what is expected of you.
  •  Report to the VRC, the Volunteer Resource Center.
  • Provide full identification with any validated credentials such as Adult First Aid or Commercial Vehicle Operations.
  • Be prepared to take care of yourself. Bring 72 hours of food, water, and sleeping gear.  Do not expect that the VRC will be able to bivouac you.
  •  Know what is needed. Know what you can do. Ask for a list of tasks and pick the ones that suit your skills.  You might arrive as an electrician and find yourself pumping water from homes – and that might be fine for you, if you expect that possibility.
  • Take direction.  The volunteer center has been lawfully empowered by a memorandum of understanding. If you go off on your own, you might find yourself dismissed or (ultimately) arrested and jailed; that is embarrassing all the way around for everyone.
 The best way to help out is to prepare in advance by joining a recognized voluntary relief agency.  Some faith-based organizations prepare a million sandwiches and deliver them to the Red Cross; others distribute ten thousand Visa Debit Cards.  What you do is up to you.  You will be more effective if you understand the Management of Spontaneous Volunteers. 

(This was written from some of the notes taken during an eight-hour training session in "Managing Spontaneous Volunteers" April 11, 2014, sponsored by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the One-Star Foundation.)


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Galileo's Two Sciences

Dover Books specializes in the reproduction of classic works whose copyrights have expired.  This translation by Henry Crew and Alfonso de Silvio from 1914 was based on a rendition into modern Italian by Antonio Favoro. That work was part of the National Edition of Galileo’s compiled works published in 1913. It was a time of rising nationalism that would bring a worldwide war and fascism. However, Galileo’s work belongs to anyone who seeks the truth.

The Two Sciences here are what we now call “Statics” and “Dynamics” in freshman engineering curricula.  He also discusses problems from modern engineering college textbooks in strength of materials – and he gets a few things wrong, but that does not detract from the overall presentation.

Missing from Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences is any mention of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Nonetheless, many times throughout, Galileo does refer to experiments with falling bodies. With extreme patience, he teased out the truth.  Galileo considered balls rolling down inclined planes and pendula of different arcs with bobs of different weights. His work foreshadowed Rayleigh on aerodynamics, but Galileo had no quantitative answers for his questions about air resistance; he knew nothing about the relationships among viscosity, cross section, and velocity. That would come 250 years later. Yet, he knew the variables…. And he knew much else.

Mean proportion
of velocity of
a falling body
 Dialogues Concerning Two Sciences is one of those books that we all “know” but never read.  With over an hour on public transportation every morning and another plus a quarter or half at night, I had the time to read this.  I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to discover science for themselves, rather than taking someone else’s word for it. 

Again, in this Galileo makes no mention of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.   But he does argue at length about the fact that two bodies of different weight fall with just about the same final velocity. Newton admitted to standing on the shoulders of giants.  Galileo depended on the “mean proportion” that was developed by the Oxford Calculators of the 13th century.  It is sadly very easy to posit that if Galileo had worked in the Middle Ages instead of the Counter-Reformation and wars of religion, his labors would have been embraced by the Church that opposed him in his own time.

Galileo also offers complex geometric proofs that I had to read past to get through. Even though algebra was over 300 years old by the time he wrote, like Isaac Newton (who was born the year that Galileo died), he proved his points with geometry.  We no longer learn it.  Yes, we have a year in high school; but even Richard Feynman had to admit defeat because he could not retrace Newton’s steps.  We are geometrically illiterate.  Still, it is obvious that Galileo was setting the foundation for his later demonstrations.  Deepest and chief among them are previews of what we call “calculus.”  Galileo showed that the instantaneous is an expression of the infinite.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Schulman’s Alongside Night Released

J. Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night is modern myth of liberation.  First published in 1979, in 1989, libertarian science fiction fans granted the novel their Prometheus Hall of Fame award.  After more than two years in production, it finally became a movie.  

(This review is based on a post intended for April 2, 2012, as I exchanged emails with Schulman about the script. He asked me to not write about the movie until it was finally released.  The March 5, 2014, issue of Liberty's Outlook from the Liberty Coin Service of Lansing, Michigan, made that announcement. The film was shown nationwide. It ran here in Austin, on June 18, bringing the author to the screening and to dinner with fans.

In the world of the present future, inflation is rampant.  The federal government has issued emergency scrip and vending machine tokens circulate as a convenience.  The pan-European currency is backed in gold; and the Europeans are unwilling to underwrite the U.S. Treasury.  Among the architects of Europe’s money is Dr. Martin Vreeland.  As the crisis deepens and the U.S. government becomes more desperate, Dr. Vreeland is among thousands targeted for round-up and perhaps execution.  Only his international status cushions him and his family, however briefly.  The Vreelands plan to escape. 

Our viewpoint character is high school senior Elliot Vreeland.  The family is separated.  Elliot is on his own in New York City with about 30 ounces in gold coins and some thin contacts with the underground economy of gypsy cab drivers and adult bookstores.  Elliot then discovers a literal underground, a free market utopia including comfortable hotels and luxury malls that sell whatever you want.  He also discovers a naked girl in a swimming pool.  Then, the federal government raids the place.

Evacuation is orderly, thanks to the firm but polite private security guards who know that the customer is always right. This scene and a couple of others were inspirational to me over the years, and still provide parameters for me when I work as a security guard. 

Later, Elliot finds his father in conference with the chief of federal security, but his mother and sister are still held hostage and must be rescued.  The Revolutionary Agoric Cadre comes to their rescue, though not without losses.  

Schulman was kind enough to share the present version of the movie script.  Written by the author of the book, the cinema adaptation is crisp and concise, a faithful translation from one medium to another.  Of course, there are updates:  Elliot has an iPod.  But very little needed to be changed because very little has improved for the federal government since 1979. 

Alongside Night is a worthy story and a craftsman's work.  Schulman was inspired when he wrote it in 1979; and his dedication has not slackened. 

The theory behind the book is more radical than Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.  Based on the works of Murray N. Rothbard, “Agorism” is attributed to Samuel Edward Konkin III.  Agorism holds that free market alternatives are so vastly superior that even building a secret city beneath an existing metropolis can be done for gold pennies on the hyper-inflated dollar.  When it was written, the theory that private security could replace the public police was unsubstantiated by evidence that we now accept.  (Generally, in the USA today, there are two private guards for every police officer; in California, three.)  In Atlas, the heroes hole up in a Colorado valley.  Here, they build and rebuild physical undergrounds which could be anywhere. At one point, Elliot quips to his new girlfriend that from what he has seen so far, they could be under the National Mall.  Actually, they resurface at Elliot’s private school in Manhattan. 

For over 30 years, Alongside Night has been an escapade for libertarians, a diamond flash to offset the sable of Atlas Shrugged.  If you have not read it – or not read it in a while – you deserve the reward.

In addition to Kevin Sorbo, the movie features Tim Russ and Garrett Wang (Star Trek: Voyager), David D. Friedman as the King of Sweden, and Dr. Ron Paul as himself. 

The newest trailer on YouTube is here.
The official trailer (2:25) on YouTube is here.

Alongside Night (movie) near-mirror site here
Or buy the Kindle Edition at Amazon.
Find Alongside Night t-shirts, coffee mug, etc., at Cafe Press.
From the Liberty Coin Service Liberty's Outlook newsletter:In the movie, Liberty Coin Service has a cameo appearance as a kiosk store in an underground free market mall, staffed by LCS Senior Numismatist Tom Coulson. Four other LCS people have bit parts in the film.The private issue Gold Liberties used in the movie (and in real life) were provided by Liberty Coin Service. Lansing television station WILX NBC 10 and Lansing radio station 1320 WILS get credits in the film for services they contributed to the production. LCS General Manager Pat Heller is an Executive Producer. Alongside Night author J. Neil Schulman wrote the screenplay, acted in the film, and served as director and producer. Schulman’s daughter, Soleil O’Neal-Schulman sings the haunting theme song, which you hear when you view the trailer.